Abba: Wembley Arena, London

Breathe in that clean Swedish mountain air… and chew that high quality gum

WE’RE LIVING through a time of rock and roll depression.

Rock and roll, with all its connotations and accommodations, is suffering like every other ‘art form’ (I use the phrase guardedly) from the bastardisation of roots culture. We’re coming to the stage where alternative cultures are increasing in cycles, week by week almost, and bunging us further and further away from what, culturally speaking, we think and want.

So, as in many other time of depression, it’s interesting, essential even, to breeze through all the alternative culture angst, stride far away from all the half-truths and demi gods, right to the top of the rock and roll tree, where the air is clear and no bullshitting birds do sing. What do we find here? We find Abba

Now Abba don’t give you the subtle crap. They’re big and they’re glossy and they’re not self-conscious about it. They’re as transparent as they come: they want your money. In return they give you bits and pieces a bit of bum, a lot of smiles, a lot of corn about how your middle class values are secure, an image of showbiz glamour (like the Banshees in fact), and, below it all and most significantly, some superlative popular music.

The music of course was bungled a long time ago. The ‘critics’, making the same mistake as always when an act becomes successful, looked up at the people, the name, the image involved, the television dream involved, and found it stank to high heaven. Which was true, but then that’s how it should have been, because to any r’n’r commentator Abba can’t be about anything other than cheap sell. What do you want? Big boots tied on to skis, a lot of gumph about how they think Swedish kids are bored? Swede rock? Benny rock?

Abba’s shit is luminous shit coated with especially pungent odours. If you mistake it for anything else you must be bordering on the spastic, which, funnily enough, was physically verified at last week’s gargantuan Wembley conference, where a sizeable number of London’s mentally disabled outpatients seemed to be ticket holders. We stood on platform five of Wembley Park station afterwards and shivered amid these poor creatures, being herded from standing on the tracks or talking to the chocolate machines.

What they’d just enjoyed was two hours’ worth of terribly naive rock and roll, a great wedge of Abba sound plonking ungracefully but endearingly forth from a Close Encounters speaker system that barely flattered the gargantuan line-up, a battalion of three guitars, two drummers, two keyboard players, a bionic bassist, about 15 back up vocalists to back up little Friday and little Agnetha’s efforts, and squadrons of Dr Kildare surrogates as roadies. The show was high quality chewing gum, like Crackerjack without Peter Glaze, a Swedish Coronation Street, a celebration of innocence for the slightly immature, a holiday time circus, all noise, melodrama and chocolates in a box.

I loved every minute of it. I sat through the sight of a busload of wee kiddies helping big bluff Benny out on ‘I Had A Dream’. I collapsed in a hysterical heap on the ground when Bjorn introduced a wincing Agnetha dramatically as “The blonde one, she is my (long pause with head bowed) former wife”. I wondered at the skill of ‘The Name Of The Game’, segued into ‘The Eagle’, which was actually stirring and made me think of Beatles songs like ‘Across The Universe’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Abba’s music doesn’t need defending, and that’s not why I tottered along to my £8 seat, it’s just that they write better songs than many toted pop hypes like the Pretenders, the Records, the Tourists, Secret Affair and many many more, and I find that situation hilarious and a little bit insulting at times.

Abba are an important example in point today. Beneath all the layers of packaging, beneath all the showbiz gumph, beneath all the customary things you’re given with every band you place faith in, there is a true body of simple, uncluttered beat music talent, which can’t be missed or mistaken because the packaging is so exaggerated. It’s vice versa with most every other commercial rock act these days, who give you the plastic daffodil of fad before you’ve time to check the washing powder isn’t an empty packet.

We left the banqueting hall refreshed and with ringing in our ears. The Abba religion grinds on before the moon falls, before the depression deepens. But, ‘we’re only interested in the fun’, ‘we only want a good time’. Right first time sucker, gimme gimme Amen after midnight.

© Dave McCulloughSounds, 17 November 1979

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